If there’s one festivity that would imbibe India’s color and vibrance, it would be the Holi Festival. My memory of taking part in its festivities this year remains vivid ― as vivid as the colors being splashed all over the people inside the temples and along the streets! When I first set foot in India several days before Holi, I’ve already been bombarded with amazing sights and sounds ― things I’ve been craving for in this fantastic country. But come Holi, I’ve went through a whole different level of experience! The energy around was tantalizing, as prayers and songs were chanted and colors were being sprayed and splashed by the friendly locals! It was such a one-of-a-kind of experience that I would always remember and be grateful for.
The main reason why I, along with my Shembot brother, Brye, pursued going to India was to celebrate the one-of-a-kind festival of Holi, which is said to be the most colorful festivity in the world. Before coming, we have searched for places online as to where it is best celebrated. Based on what we found out, it is best celebrated in the city of Mathura.
Located about 50 km north of Agra, Mathura is a city in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is one of the seven cities considered holy by the Hindus, collectively called as Sapta Puri. It is said that the Hindu god Krishna was born here.
How to go to Mathura
If you are coming from Delhi, you can ride a train or a bus to go to Mathura. Distance between the two is 150 km, so it’s faster to ride the train (2 to 3 hours). It is also said to be cheaper, as it would only cost less than 100 rupees. However, in busy times like the Holi, a lot of people ride the train and failing to secure tickets ahead of time would make it difficult to purchase (at least the good trains, they say). So it would be better to ride the bus instead in Delhi’s interstate bus terminals. Travel time, though, would take about 4 hours. The bus also costs more, at about 140 rupees.
Likewise, if you are coming from Agra, you can ride a train or a bus to go to Mathura. Some trains directly travel from Agra to Mathura and would only take less than an hour travel time. Buses are also available, but they would take more than an hour. Both bus and train would cost you about 70 to 90 rupees.
If you have a hard time looking for trains or buses (we surely did while we were there), you can opt to rent a taxi or avail a car service (e.g. Uber). It would, however, be a lot pricier.
India’s festival of colors marks the beginning of spring. It takes place on the day after the full moon of winter (usually during the month of March), which means its actual date differs from year to year. This year of 2019, it was celebrated on March 21. Holi is celebrated across the whole country of India (and even in some parts of Nepal), with each city or town preparing various programs and activities. The festivities often vary from place to place, as some would celebrate it for about a week, while some would just start from the afternoon of the first day until the late morning of the second day.
THE LEGEND OF PRAHLAD
Legends have it that Holi’s roots lie with Holika, a female demon and sister of another demon named King Hiranyakashayap. The king believed he was superior to all the gods, but his son, Prahlad, believes and follows instead the god who preserves and protects the universe: Vishnu. He plotted to kill his son, with Holika conspiring; she took her nephew with her in the fire. But Vishnu saved Prahlad and Holika alone burned. Vishnu then killed the king, with Prahlad replacing him. This triumph over evil is being commemorated the night before the Holi, especially during the burning of bonfires (or even effigies of Holika).
Now, the tradition of throwing colored powder and splashing dyed waters is believed to have originated from the story of Krishna and Radha. The god Krishna, having a blue colored skin, is believed to have complained about the skin complexion of his lover, Radha. Krishna’s mother then suggested for him to smear Radha with paint. It is said that this is where the custom of smearing loved ones with colors during Holi came from.
ACTIVITIES DURING HOLI
- Witness the Holika Dahan – This is the burning of the effigy of Holika, the demoness who was burnt to death with the help of Vishnu.
- Witness the sunrise in Yamuna River
- Pray, sing and dance in Dwarkadheesh Temple
- Get immersed in colors along the streets of Mathura!
TIPS ON HOW TO ENJOY AND SURVIVE THE HOLI FESTIVAL:
- Of course, Holi is to be celebrated well by having fun while paying respect to the local customs and traditions of the Hindus celebrating the event. Learn how to follow the rules while you are in the vicinity of their sacred places such as temples and rivers. For example, remove your shoes before going inside temples and near their rivers.
- Book your accommodation (hotel/ hostel/ guesthouse) before the actual event so you won’t have a hard time looking for one when you go here. Mind you, though, that not too many hotels can be found here. I won’t say the name of the hotel where we stayed because I won’t recommend it. It took about an hour before we could finally check in due to a booking issue! I suggest that you look for hotels/hostels that are best reviewed in accommodation booking sites.
- We booked a hotel near the Dwarkadeesh Temple, and as a consequence, we didn’t see a nearby restaurant. It was already evening when we reached our hotel, and we didn’t want to be wandering far at night. Thankfully, there were stores along the streets where we bought food during our stay. Be careful, though, because Indians tend to touch and hold their food with their bare hands! If you want to be safe, just buy manufactured goodies in the stores or bring food before going to Mathura.
- Prepare to be drenched in color! Wear clothes that you can live not wearing again (haha) and cheap sandals or slippers when going outside! Everyone is bound to be splashed and sprayed with colors, either in powder or liquid form, and you don’t want your precious clothing to be dirtied, do you? Remember, the colors are hard to remove from the body! What more with the clothes!
- It’s going to be a challenge bringing your camera! My friend, Brye, covered his cam with lots of plastic, and it proved effective! But, I have heard stories that at times, it doesn’t work. I was too scared to bring my precious camera outside, which is why I just left it in our hotel room. Thankfully, I have a water-resistant cellphone to capture photos and videos during the event!
- Enjoy and have fun! That’s always the most important thing! Get yourself immersed with the celebration! Smile, dance and take pictures with the locals and even the foreigners celebrating the event. Holi is such a happy event you’ll always remember it for the rest of your life!
Expenses in Holi Festival
Expected expenses during the festival would depend on the following: how many days you’re going to spend in Mathura, what type of accommodation you’re going to take, what food you’re going to eat, and what mode of transportation you’re going to use in and out of the city. Festivities during the events in Mathura are free of charge, meaning you don’t have to pay in order to celebrate!
I hope you had fun reading this blog post, guys! I also hope you have enjoyed looking at the pictures here, making you feel how it is like celebrating the Holi Festival! If you have any comments, suggestions or reactions about this post, don’t forget to leave them in the text box below!